The Story Of Hengest And Horsa

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There are no written eyewitness accounts dating from the start of English invasion, so we have to rely upon stories passed on and written down many years later by monks. Much our information comes from the Venerable Bede, a monk who wrote a detailed history of England 300 years after the Romans left Britain.

Although it was the Angles who later gave their name to England [Angleland] there is no evidence that they took a lead in the invasions. The first invaders to settle were said to have been a band of Jutes led by two brothers, Hengest and Horsa, in the year 449. The story goes that a local British king called Vortigern had invited Hengest and Horsa to come and help him fight the northern Picts. In return, the Jutes were given the Isle of Thanet [which was not joined to the mainland, as it is today]. But after sending for reinforcements from their homeland, the brothers turned against Vortigern. Horsa was killed, but Hengest overthrew the British leader and set up a kingdom of his own in Kent.

From then on a steady stream of settlers rowed across the sea to Britain.

They sailed along the coasts and up the river estuaries-especially the Thams, Wash, and Humber. The English invaders were primitive people who lived by hunting and farming. They were also warlike. After beaching their longboats, they marched inland, killing, plundering and burning as they went, taking the best land from the Britons [whom they called Welsh- their word for foreigners]. The boats, which carried these settlers, were rowing galleys. They held about sixty to eighty people, thirthy of them at the oars. We know this from various remains that have been found. The best example was discovered in the last century, preserved in a peat bog at Nydam, near the Danish-German border. The Nydam ship, built of oak planks, dates from about 400. Such ships must have been very unsafe because the sides were only just above the waterline. Shipwrecks would have been common in storms and rough seas. Experts say that an open voyage straight across the North Sea would have been madness in a ship like this; especially as there were no navigation charts or compasses. So the invaders almost certainly hugged the coastline for most of the way. Perhaps they aied to get to Cap Gris Nez, in France, where Channel swimmers start or finish. From here the English coast is just over twenty miles awayand can be seen on a clear day. ...

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